“The symptom as a ‘return of the repressed’ is precisely such an effect which precedes its cause (its hidden kernel, its meaning), and in working through the symptom we are precisely ‘bringing about the past’ – we are producing the symbolic reality of past, long-forgotten traumatic events.”Slavoj Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology
Do you know the origin of Veterans’ Day? Originally called Armistice Day, the 11th day of the 11th month was honored in 1919, exactly one year after German, French, and British officials signed the armistice, formally ending The Great War. Through research, I learned that the armistice was agreed upon and signed, but the war did not officially end until the 11th hour, which was, in actuality, 6 hours after the ink of the agreement dried. In the name of poecy and symbolism, fighting continued and lives were lost, as Commander-in-Chief of Allied forces, Ferdinand Foch, insisted on adhering to the predetermined ceasefire, proactively, to secure the authorty of the armistice against Germany (History.com).
As a human being, I do not advocate war in any circumstance. I cannot conceive of any appropriate justification for war. With that said, from a philosophical perspective, I do believe that war is, in some cases–perhaps, in most or even all cases–necessary. War is a symptom of something repressed. Unconscious trauma is denied and buried within social systems, within the minds of government authorities, and when it can no longer be contained, it erupts externally–it erupts violently. War becomes the answer to an unarticulated question, which arises from illusive fantasy. Fantasy arises from the gaping hole of impotence, which haunts government authorities, which haunts the citizens. The fantasy embodies an imaginary solution to a misrepresented and misunderstood problem. War is the means of realizing that solution. The fantasy itself–imperialism, crusade, liberation–is a smokescreen that conceals the absent object of desire. War is the mechanism by which entire nations collaborate to obtain said object. Yet, the object itself is imaginary; thus, it can never be obtained. The fallacy that war will empower, redeem, or liberate–that it will serve as the vehicle of delivery, administering bits of the object, like sprinkles on a cake–can only be broken if it is first attempted. This is why war becomes necessary. It is an unfortunate reality. Nations must provoke and defend because the failure to act perpetuates the illusion. It is only by engaging in the war that one realizes the impossibility of the desired outcome. War hastens the symbolic death of ideals.
What desired object(s) set the stage for the first world war? What was the desired outcome of all the alliances, conspiracies, and mobilizations? War was the means to a desired end, which never materialized. Lives were wasted, futures cancelled, and lands poisoned, and all to no avail.
I wondered to myself, this morning, what can I say to honor Veterans of war and military servicemen when I fundamentally disagree with ideologies and philosophies, establishing the need for arms and combat? After meditating and laboring over how I could perceive the role of the armed forces from a place of empathy, I discovered the import of their service lies, not in the signified nationalism or patriotism or honor of their labor, but in the requisite symbolism of the duties they perform. For hostility to die, whether it be among nations or citizens of a nation, it must first be felt. I will honor our nation’s servicemen and women because it is only through their sacrifice that divisive illusions may die. It is only through war that we become conscious of misguided nationalist ambition. When our loved ones fall, we discover the futility of the cause for which we fight.
I will conclude with the words of Shakespeare, in the Prologue of Romeo and Juliet, which I believe affirms my point, in kind. The only remedy for the enmity between the two fair households required that they experience the symbolic death of their rivalry in the sacrifice of their beloved children.
“Two households, both alike in dignity, / In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, / From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, / Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. / From forth the fatal loins of these two foes / A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life; / Whose misadventured piteous overthrows / Do with their death bury their parents’ strife. / The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love, / And the continuance of their parents’ rage, / Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove…”William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Prologue
What is war, but a feud between the nations? What are servicemen, but the casualties of the feud? Were it not for their sacrifice, we could not recognize the value of their lives and that the outcome of the battle is never adequate recompense for what we have lost therein.